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Is Gay The New Black? I Don't Think So. 
2nd-Dec-2008 10:44 am
While out shopping this past weekend with my partner and best friend in Barnes & Noble, I was told by my incensed family to walk over to the news and magazine section to see the cover of this month's Advocate. It was clear to me from their expressions of pained outrage that I was going to be offended and angered by something. As soon as I saw the cover with its pronouncement that "GAY IS THE NEW BLACK", I felt my entire body tense up. My initial hope was that I was right and that my intelligence would prove this was a means of grabbing attention with shock value, which sometimes works, albeit distastefully most of the time. The mere notion that civil rights struggles shared by GLBT people were on the same par as that of an entire race of people is incredibly offensive to me - just as the misogynistic attitudes of men (and even some women) do who presuppose standards of gender inequality as legitimate means for acceptable traditional role playing in the public arena.

I am a product of the southern United States, I know a thing or two about racism and my area of this country's historical racist terrorism. I do not use that word lightly. When I consider Selma, Emmett Till, The church bomb murders in Birmingham in 1963 (I could do this all day), I think of terrorism. I have written about Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and Gwen Araujo, and terrorism feels like the appropriate label to use. I have written about Richard & Mildred Loving, Andrea Perez & Sylvester Davis, and the fictitious Jim Crow, from which it is believed the term Jim Crow Laws was derived. I'm still living in an area where racism is very much a part of people's lives just as homophobia is - regardless of commonality.

That brings me to my main point for this. While the civil rights struggles of black people in this country and that of GLBT share certain commonalities, it is patently false to make the leap from commonality to side by side comparison as a means for legitimizing the claim that gay is the new black. Not even close. Homophobia is no more on the same level as xenophobia as ageism is on par with sexism. These things are different for pointed reasons - because they are not the same. Commonalities aside, it is disingenuous as well as misguidedly dangerous to draw comparative lines on issues such as these and ultimately solves nothing aimed for; in fact, it only serves in most cases to invalidate your positions.

Let me make myself clear as a founder of this community. I started this with a group of people who share a vision for what is right and fair in the eyes of the judicial system, NOT in the eyes of those with a particular bent - religious or otherwise. We have no power to change people's hearts and minds across the board, though I believe we should try where we can, but we can change the way we are treated in the eyes of the law for the best reason possible, for the reason that was the spark that fired us up in the first place: BECAUSE IT IS RIGHT, AND BECAUSE IT IS FAIR.

We will not be served well by making generalities equating racial inequality with sexual identity. We further divide ourselves in such ways and create greater chasms than we are able to traverse later when it is necessary and more to the point, it doesn't matter how different we are. It is not just self defeating, it is inefficient and frankly just not very wise. We will continue to kick in doors that have already opened and carry ourselves and one another through those doors because it will be the natural progression just as water finds a way to carve out a river from a single drop to the bounty of an ocean - with time and tenacity. We will feel defeated at times and that is normal. We will feel that the proverbial finish line is nowhere in sight when we haven't the energy to carry on. We will remind ourselves and each other that it is okay because feeling defeated is not the same thing as being defeated, just as seeing no finish line in sight from the vantage point of weary eyes is not the same thing as having no finish line to cross.

Just as gay is most certainly NOT the new black.

(cross posted to engayge_america)
2nd-Dec-2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
Well put.
2nd-Dec-2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
THANK you.
2nd-Dec-2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
I really love your journal, but I have to say this post left me more confused than enlightened. You say "These things are different for pointed reasons - because they are not the same." That's more of a tautology than an explanation. What are the "pointed reasons" you refer to? Specific examples would help a lot.
2nd-Dec-2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
There are no 'gay only' drinking fountains or 'gay only' entrances. There are no businesses or restaurants forbidden to gay people. In order to do this correctly, however, I should probably know more about where you're confused. I believe that drawing the comparisons between the denial of marriage equality for GLBT people and the oppression of Jim Crow era is completely off the point. Racism and homophobia may have commonalities, but that is hardly a shared struggle and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

2nd-Dec-2008 05:30 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons that it's become in vogue to compare 'gay' with 'black' IS the marriage issue. At one point it was illegal for people of different races to marry, and the reasoning used was the 'the Bible says so' and 'It's not violating their rights, thay can still marry someone, just not THAT someone'; the same arguments that are used against gay marriage. 50 years later most people are shocked to hear that at one point 'everyone agreed' that allowing intermarriage was dangerous and immoral, so comparing gay marriage with mixed marriage points out how mores change and brings up the thought of "what will we believe 50 years from now".

There IS a congruence, and it's all too convenient to speak in terms of absolutes. Gay isn't the new black, but it sure seems to be the new grey.
2nd-Dec-2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
While it is entirely appropriate, in my mind, to look at The Civil Rights struggle to get ideas on how to combat the current inequalities, you're completely correct that it would be entirely INappropriate to call gay rights the new Civil Rights struggle. We should learn from what worked in that effort (and continues to work), what didn't, etc., but to link the two in this way is incredibly insulting to the forebears of African Americans (and other "racial" minorities).

At the rally in San Jose shortly after Prop 8 passed, there was a chant that bothered me: "Gay, Straight, Black, White, Same Struggle, Same Fight!" I looked around, and saw only a sea of white faces. I don't think us "whities" get to co-opt the progress that African Americans made.
3rd-Dec-2008 12:15 am (UTC)
Fortunately (at least while I was there) that chant didn't last so long. I assumed it was either because the word order was a little complicated, or people were more sensible than that.

And then they started singing, "We Will Overcome". *facepalm*
2nd-Dec-2008 09:56 pm (UTC)
Oppression dick measuring = a game the oppressor is guaranteed to win.
3rd-Dec-2008 04:42 am (UTC)
JHB, you write beautifully and once again you make me stop and think.

I have some trouble with this post; my discomfort boils down I think to the experience of prejudice and inequality by visible vs. invisible minorities. Remaining invisible is a charade that comes at great cost, and in the end is hard, if not impossible to maintain.

Our society has changed, & continues to change; we're the better for it. As a gay man, I owe a heavy debt not only to Del Martin, but to Martin Luther King. The commonality of our struggle for civil rights should help bind us together, not drive us apart. We need as minority peoples, to reach out to one another, to understand what oppression does and has done to us all.

Frankly, I'm amazed by the speed at which some of this social change has happened. The Matthew Shephards and Brandon Teenas grow fewer with time, but the damage of past injustices to individual lives and to our individual and collective psyches lingers. I'm now a legally married gay man. That public acknowledgement 20 years ago would easily have cost me my job. It nearly did in 1986. Prior to 1973, it could be a grounds for involuntary confinement to a mental institution. In WWII era Europe, it would have been grounds for deportation to a concentration camp.

The social changes brought about by the struggle of those that came before us in the past half century, have made it different enough today that the experience of this younger generation, those born post-MLK, post-Selma, post-Nixon, post-Viet Nam, post-E.R.A., & post-Stonewall, have not personally known the degree of discrimination that earlier generations knew first hand. Amen for that!
18th-Jul-2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
I agree that the cover of the magazine was offensive. But note that writers have NO say in what the cover of a magazine is. If you actually read Gross' article, you will see that he is NOT saying Gay is the new black. In fact, in the article, he says "Our oppression, by and large, is nowhere near as extreme as blacks’, and we insult them when we make facile comparisons between our plights. Gay people have more resources than blacks had in the 1960s. We are embedded in the power structures of every institution of this society. While it is illegal in this country to fire an African-American without cause and in most places it’s still legal to fire a gay person for being gay, we are more likely to have informal means of recourse than black people have. Almost all gay people have the choice of passing. Very few black people have that option. Of course, we shouldn’t have to make that choice, and our civil rights struggle is about making sure that we don’t have to." I urge you to read the article.
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